Head sire at Battle Hill Farm Falcon BHF (Bey Shah x Bey Serenade SF), 1998 U.S. National Champion Futurity Colt.
Battle Hill Farm rise to the top by nancy ryan
s the road they traveled wound its way up from the valley floor, they began to catch glimpses through the distant trees of the big brick house. From a mile away, the grand homestead came into view — its brilliant white columns and four chimneys like sentinels standing watch high over the Greenbrier River Valley, welcoming their imminent arrival. The two men were good friends. Scott Brumfield and fellow trainer Keith Krichke made the trip from Michigan to see Battle Hill Farm, and to meet owners Dorris Ragsdale and her husband Lynn Smith. In 1985 Dorris and Lynn settled on 40 breathtaking acres in the shadow of West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains, set up their internal medicine practice in historic Lewisburg and soon began realizing their shared dream of breeding some of the world’s most beautiful, desirable, and competitive Arabian
Battle Hill Farm in the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia.
halter horses. Since then they have been steadily, and rather quietly, rising through the ranks to take their place among top breeders in the world today. Accelerating Battle Hill Farm’s ascent to this position is the beautiful homebred grey stallion Falcon BHF (Bey Shah x Bey Serenade SF), 1998 U.S. National Champion Futurity Colt and sire of some 176 registered foals, 28 of whom have earned over 70 National titles — of those 20 won Championships and Reserves. Falcon get have also won over 80 Regional Championships, and five have earned either Legion of Merit or Supreme Legion of Merit. Falcon now stands at Battle Hill, housed with his broodmare band in a unique barn comprising the ground floor of Dorris and Lynn’s magnificent house. Keith Krichke recalls his first visit vividly. “It is a huge plantation-style brick home up on a high hill, and you look down on each side of the property where the paddocks go down the slope and into this big valley with a mountain range on both sides surrounding them.” Keith also appreciated the rich history
of the region, particularly concerning Civil War events, Dorris and Lynn’s inspiration for naming their farm. “There is even a spot in the front pasture where you can see where they had the cannons mounted during the last battle of Lewisburg. There is a ton of history there, and when you look at it you can visualize what must have gone on. It is one of the most picturesque farms — it is amazing.” Setting the Foundation The Battle Hill Farm of today had more humble beginnings, and a comparatively nebulous plan for a breeding program. The doctors met in college, but neither had a significant background in horse ownership, breeding, or showing. “Lynn took riding lessons when he was a kid,” explains Dorris, “and I had a miniature horse my uncle gave me that was way too little to ride. But I am not a rider.” One thing they did realize was that they were definitely interested in Arabians, after a friend introduced them to the breed. “I feel we are so lucky
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that we fell into the Arabians,” says Dorris. They began by collecting a handful of broodmares, but according to Doris, “We really had no idea what we were doing. Then we went to the Buckeye and we saw the Top Eight mares. I told Lynn, ‘When we get home, we’ll have to find some good homes for our mares because we are starting over.’” And start over they did. They began by seeking the services of David Boggs and Midwest Arabians. “We purchased Winds Of Warr (*Padron x Amber Satin) through Midwest, at the time the top-siring *Padron son after Padrons Psyche. Then we started looking for mares for him,” remembers Dorris. Of Winds Of Warr’s 35 registered offspring, six have earned National titles, four of which are U.S. National Champions or Reserves. A gelding of his, BHF Windwalker (Winds Of Warr x Khemosane), earned a Legion of Excellence in performance with various owners. Over the years Dorris and Lynn have assembled an extraordinary broodmare band — daughters of Khemosabi, *Muscat, Padrons Psyche, Ali Jamaal, and the legendary Bey Shah, whose genetics would come to play such an influential role in the remarkable success of the Battle Hill Farm breeding program. A Strategy Takes Shape Dorris and Lynn began studying phenotype possibilities and eventually embraced the practice of selective linebreeding. “Linebreeding narrows that genetic pool,” explains Dorris. “As long as the individuals are of the highest quality, you can predict the outcome more accurately than you can with an outcross.” Beginning with Bey Shah, Battle Hill discharged a breeding blitz that continues today. Their chief inspiration was Lady Wentworth and her book, The Authentic Arabian Horse. “In the book, Lady Wentworth says she spent a lot of time with the Bedouins, collecting purebred Arabians for the Crabbet Stud,” says Dorris. “She explained how the Bedouins would purposely choose the best daughter of their greatest stallion and then breed back in hopes of producing a colt that would carry on in siring the best of that genetic material. So we are doing the same thing. I thought the Bedouins had to know more about breeding than we could know. They had been doing it for thousands of years. We were praying for the birth of a great herdsire when we bred to produce Falcon.” Their prayers were answered in 1995 with one of their prized foundation mares, the stunning grey Bey Serenade SF (Bey Shah x Brandie Alexandra), U.S. National Champion Futurity Filly and Reserve Champion Mare, Scottsdale Champion Mare, and Canadian National Reserve Champion Mare. She had already produced a colt for Battle Hill, BHF 95 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ OCTOBER 2009
Top: Battle Hill stallion Winds Of Warr (*Padron x Amber Satin), sire of six National winners. Bottom: Battle Hill stallion Denali BHF (Falcon BHF x NV Ali Bey) is a U.S. National Top Ten Yearling and Futurity Colt and Canadian National Reserve Champion Futurity Colt, and is the sire of four National winners, plus Scottsdale Champion Mare Dulcinea BHF.
Two home-bred National winners sired by Falcon BHF: Foxfire BHF (Falcon BHF x Tevkah), top, a National Top Ten in halter and hunter pleasure and World Cup Champion in Australia; and bottom, Franchesca BHF (Falcon BHF x Tevkah), U.S. and Canadian National Top Ten Futurity Filly, now in the Battle Hill Farm broodmare band.
Sting, when bred to Padrons Psyche. BHF Sting was sold and exported to South Africa where he became National Champion. But now Dorris and Lynn applied their new principles by breeding Bey Serenade SF to her sire, Bey Shah. The result: Falcon BHF. “Falcon is truly a blessing from God,” says Dorris. “We were praying for a grey colt, and the night he was born, I got down on my knees in the stall and thanked the powers above. He was exactly what we wanted and we knew he was special.” But Dorris and Lynn didn’t exactly rush around passing out cigars. In fact, Dorris says, “I actually hid him at first. You know how you don’t want to blow smoke. At the time we were showing with David Boggs and I didn’t breathe a word to him. But when he did come to the farm, he was poker-faced and kind of walked around the stall and finally said, ‘Why didn’t you call me?’ And I told him, well, you know, I just didn’t want to blow smoke!” Smoke or not, David Boggs knew what Dorris and Lynn knew: they had one hot horse on their hands, and the proof came when Falcon, in his first show, was named U.S. National Champion Futurity Colt. “What Falcon does every day for us here is show us how he is the epitome of the Bey Shah snort-and-blow horse,” says Dorris. “He got his mom’s pretty and Bey Shah’s presence. He is a pleasure to live with and he is so beautiful. He loves to be macho for his mares and he is so showy, but at the same time he is like a puppy dog with our farm manager Dorothy, who is not even 5 feet 1 inch! “We love him and he has definitely made the farm. He has been the herd sire here for quite a while.” But Battle Hill has a pair of junior stallions that are beginning to take over some of Falcon’s duties — more on them later. Dorris believes Falcon brings a lot of positive traits to the table. Among the things she has seen him pass on is height. “He is very tall. He consistently brings height, and that Bey Shah snort-and-blow show attitude. His neck set is great, it is long and upright. And he more often than not will give you Serenade’s face.” New Direction Shortly after Keith Krichke made that memorable first visit to Battle Hill Farm, he began taking some of Dorris and Lynn’s horses to his training center in Vicksburg, Michigan, for halter schooling and showing. Yet it was on a return trip a year later, again with Scott Brumfield, when he would encounter an exceptional newborn filly that would carry him and her owners to even loftier heights. Her name was Felisha BHF (Falcon BHF x Tevkah). “Tevkah is a wonderful *Muscat daughter whom we bred to Falcon several times,” says Dorris. “Foxfire BHF is brother to Felisha BHF and the oldest of that cross.” Foxfire was a two-time U.S. and Canadian Top Ten 96 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ OCTOBER 2009
in both halter and hunter pleasure, before he was exported to Australia where he became World Cup Champion. “Her sister is Franchesca BHF and she is here and she is really beautiful.” So beautiful, Franchesca was the 2004 Canadian National Top Ten Futurity Filly. She is also the dam of Desiree BHF by Denali BHF, the 2008 Scottsdale Signature Stallion Filly ATH and Canadian National Top Ten Two-Year Old Filly. Keith and Felisha’s first meeting was a case of instant attraction. “She was a beautiful baby,” Dorris remembers. “Keith and Scott Brumfield were on the farm the night she was born. Lynn and I were up until two making sure she was all right. Dorothy came in early and clipped her face and neck to her shoulders. I think they were both impressed with her when they saw her after breakfast the next morning.” Oh boy, were they. “That filly was absolutely amazing,” says Keith. “She walked up to the front of the stall and stretched out to greet me and did the most bizarre thing with her throat all by herself. You knew you were looking at something absolutely incredible.” “She was Scottsdale Reserve Junior Champion Filly as a yearling,” continues Dorris. “Keith then took Felisha to U.S. Nationals and she went Reserve. Then as a three-year-old she won Canadian and U.S. Nationals in the Futurities.” Adds Keith, “Felisha went to Scottsdale and was Reserve Junior Champion there and besides her beauty, it was her whole aura in the showring. She thinks she is ‘it.’ There are no two ways about it. She’s among my most memorable of the National champions I’ve shown. They almost have human personalities. Felisha is one of those, and I really believe she is one of the best mares in the world.” Felisha was such a standout, that Keith says, “When I showed her at Canadian Nationals, I walked her into the ring, started our trot and did the turn-around to walk on the rail. Even before we did the standup, I had people on the rail actually congratulating me on the walk-around. She walks around like she knows she is something special, and you know — she is. She is a little like her mother — ‘don’t bother me, and leave me alone.’ Then when I am there, she and I get along amazingly and she lets you know when you are getting close to pushing her too far. She is not the kind of mare you can just tell, ‘This is the way it is,’ because she won’t understand. When Felisha is all blown up doing her thing, she is more powerful than any stallion in the ring. It’s so easy to get excited about her, but it’s true. When I am handling her, I know I am handling one of the best mares in the world. I am so happy I have the opportunity to show her again. Felisha is one of my all-time favorites.” Felisha has not been in the arena for six years, and Keith believes of any, she is the mare who can help him achieve a repeat performance in the Senior Mare competition at U.S. Nationals this year. Last year Keith won with Major Love Affair (DS Major Afire x HL Infactuation), owned by Don and Lisa 97 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ OCTOBER 2009
Top: Battle Hill foundation mare and 1992 U.S. and Canadian National Reserve Champion Mare Bey Serenade SF (Bey Shah x Brandie Alexandra), dam of Falcon BHF. Bottom: Valued Battle Hill broodmare Tevkah (*Muscat x Vietka) is also a Scottsdale Junior Champion Filly and Reserve Champion Mare.
Top: 2009 Scottsdale Grand Champion Mare Dulcinea BHF (Denali BHF x Felisha BHF). Bottom: U.S. and Canadian National Champion Futurity Filly Felisha BHF (Falcon BHF x Tevkah).
Camacho of Windrose Farms in Wisconsin. Felisha recently made the trip to Michigan to prepare for Nationals and Keith says she remembered it all. “She’s back. Actually, it is going to be kind of a treat to present her and let people see her again. She remembers everything I taught her. Standing up and showing is an easy place for her to go to. She doesn’t have to stretch her neck to make it look long, because it really is!” “She is a diva,” adds Dorris, “but she absolutely loves Keith. And they are a good team. When he goes by her stall her ears go up. She loves him. As a breeder I am so appreciative that the industry has given her those championships.” Keith is taking a trailerful to Nationals. “We’re taking 16,” he says, “and out of that 16, six of them are Battle Hillbred horses, and all capable of wearing roses.” Even so, Keith says he expects the Senior Mare class to be a tough one this year. He’ll go with his usual strategy of working hard at trying to peak for that day. “You try to make sure that all your ducks are in a row and the horses are healthy and make sure that that horse is feeling good about themselves. You want to make sure their spirits are in there and feeling good. I try not to think about the pressure or let it get in the way. We’ll see where the Lord leads us. I am just going to enjoy the moment. But if there is a mare that can deserve to win this competition, it’s Felisha. She is genetically what she should be, and capable of producing great foals, especially beautiful daughters like Dulcinea BHF by the Falcon son Denali BHF. “We showed Dulcinea, who is an amazing mare, at Scottsdale this year where she was Grand Champion Mare,” says Keith. “David Boggs bought her for Carlos and Christiane Roizner in Argentina.” Expect to see Dulcinea at Nationals in the Futurities with David Boggs. Dulcinea will be competing against the Falcon daughter RD Fabreanna (x GF Simply Magic), owned by Claire and Margaret Larson and handled by Andy Sellman; and 2009 Canadian National Champion Futurity Filly Delilah BHF (Denali BHF x BHF Savannah), owned by Cynthia and Curtis Piotrowski; and Falcons Love Note BHF (Falcon BHF x BHF Shahs Luvsong), owned by Battle Hill Farm. The same year Dorris and Lynn bred Felisha to Denali via embryo transfer to produce Dulcinea, they bred Felisha back to Falcon to, as Dorris says, “concentrate the genes a little.” Felisha carried this pregnancy, which resulted in a stunning grey colt named Beijing BHF. “Beijing will be our next herd sire,” says Dorris. “I think he is the best one we have ever produced.” Just as she kept his sire, Dorris has been largely keeping Beijing behind the scenes until now. Keith will be showing him in the Futurity Colts class at Nationals. Battle Hill is 98 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ OCTOBER 2009
waiting to see how Beijing crosses on some of their best mares, including Mystic Rose BHF (Padrons Psyche x NV Ali Bey), Canadian National Futurity Champion and U.S. Futurity Reserve Champion. In the interim, Denali is sharing breeding duties with his sire Falcon at Battle Hill, and doing extremely well. In his own right, Denali has an impressive show record. In 2003, he earned a Top Ten at U.S. Nationals in the Sweepstakes, and two years later, was Top Ten in the Futurities at U.S. Nationals and Canadian Reserve Futurity Champion. “Denali only has 17 registered foals, and out of that group he has four National winners, including a National Champion,” says Dorris. “He is so wonderfully bred in terms of his gene pool. NV Ali Bey, his dam, is just a gorgeous Ali Jamaal daughter who was National Champion Mare of Brazil. He looks more like Ali Jamaal than Bey Shah.” By the numbers, Battle Hill Farm’s success is easily recognized. Of the 111 registered foals bred over the years, 14 have been named U.S. and or Canadian National Champions in addition to other National wins. Six more have been named National Reserve Champions. Horses bred by Battle Hill Farm have earned 39 National Championships and Reserve Champions, and 84 National Top Tens. For the Love of the Breed Dorris and Lynn love the recognition, but insist that first and foremost they are breeders. “We are happy just to be here on the farm breeding,” insists Dorris. “We love the breeding end of it. We love being with them day to day, and our greatest pleasure is seeing the new foals born and watching Falcon and the mares in the pasture. The showring is fun, but the deepest satisfaction is the pleasure of the horses’ company.” It is very gratifying for Dorris and Lynn to see how happy people are with their foals from the Battle Hill program. “That is what is at the heart of our program, and we are so excited to see other folks become successful with Battle Hill bred horses,” she says. Keith can’t say enough about where Battle Hill is positioned in terms of influencing the Arabian horse industry — halter in particular. “I will say this about this entire program: They are the leading breeders of halter horses in the country right now. For example, this year at Canadian Nationals, they bred the Canadian National Champion Futurity Filly and the Canadian National Two-Year-Old filly. And every year it is like that. And despite what some people think about linebreeding, I truly believe that it is working for them, because those horses are genetically so strong in type and they are great horses, not mediocre. So when they do linebreed, they really hit some home runs and they do it consistently. It is amazing what they have done. Their stallion 99 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ OCTOBER 2009
Top: Mystic Rose BHF (Padrons Psyche x NV Ali Bey), U.S. National Reserve Champion and Canadian National Champion Futurity Filly, now owned by Dan Whiteneck has been bred to Beijing for a 2010 foal. Bottom: Farm manager Dorothy Herndon and Falcon BHF.
Beijing BHF (Falcon BHF x Felisha BHF), 2006 grey colt bred and owned by Battle Hill Farm.
power is incredible, too. Their ratio of national winners to horses bred is amazing. And Beijing looks like he might even become a stronger sire than his father.” Yet even though her and her husband’s medical backgrounds enable them to make breeding decisions based on science, Dorris does not entirely credit science for their breeding success. Surprisingly, she says, “It’s more of an artist’s eye we use when breeding horses, because you have to carefully look at conformation and be able to look at faults. There is a lot of science involved in it certainly, but you have to be able to have that eye for which individual looks great and which ones don’t.” And they are willing to share with all of us their top five rules for breeding National-caliber Arabian halter horses: Linebreeding does narrow the genetic pool and increases your chance of producing a champion, but only if the two individuals you are crossing are of the highest quality. You can’t just choose any two. They have to be the best, otherwise you can end up with a fault. You need to listen to the breeders who came before you, like the McCoys, Bazy Tankersley, and the Coleals. They can tell you which good traits you can reproduce and conversely, which bad traits are difficult to overcome. You can learn from their mistakes and build on their successes. Sit at the rail at halter classes as often as you can. It’s great
if you can find out who the sire and dam are. Evaluate them for yourself. Just like the old-time breeders used to say, if you believe in your heart and think the cross you have in mind has promise, don’t give up on the first try. But we think if we didn’t get something good on the second or third try we would consider a change. Don’t be barn blind. If you can’t evaluate your own herd, hire someone or get a professional halter handler to help you. To be successful it is better to have one great mare than 10 average ones. And the bottom line is, always breed the best to the best. Staying on Top of the Hill “Dorris and Lynn have a definite idea of where they are going and what they are doing,” says Keith. “They are very intelligent people. They have been blessed with great horses and they go on and they breed. They love to show and win, but first and foremost they are breeders.” And that is just what they plan to continue to do, according to Dorris. “We’re just going to keep plugging along in the back hills of West Virginia, trying to keep producing Top Tens and National Champions.” Trying, no doubt, and succeeding.
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by Nancy Ryan